Published: March 14th 2012March 14th 2012
A big pine tree
at the Melbourne Botanical Garden
In the morning we awoke early for our flight to Melbourne to find that the rain which had been intermittent the previous couple days had arrived full strength overnight. No worries, the subway station was right across the street and trains ran directly to the Airport terminal. So we had a somewhat leisurely full English breakfast and then checked out. Although the station was thronged with Sydneysiders on the way to work, with the help of a couple folks we bought our tickets, found our platform and boarded the train. All the hard work was behind us; we thought. Just a few stations down the line the train stopped for longer than normal, and an announcement came over the PA that the routing of the train had been changed and it would no longer be stopping at the Airport. After a few seconds of bewilderment, we grabbed our stuff and hurriedly left our coach. We didn’t need to hurry, the train sat there another 10 minutes before it resumed its run. In the meantime several more PA announcements (which were helpful and easy to understand, something we’ve experienced all over so far) informed us that the reason for the change was
flooding of the track at a point beyond the airport and that there would be another train along shortly, sure enough it was so and with a delay of no more than 20 minutes we were back on our way. Good thing we had left ourselves plenty of time. Once we arrived at the Domestic Terminal, we discovered there were two buildings, one for Qantas and one for everybody else. Of course the rain had flooded the walkway between the buildings so we were directed to a detour through the car park. We finally got to the counter and were able to check ourselves and our bags in and breeze through security. As we walked through the concourse we noticed that a number of flights, particularly those to Melbourne had been delayed, again because of the weather. In fact our flight, although it was listed, had not been assigned a gate so we sat and waited and chatted with a chap from the UK who was on his way to Melbourne from Singapore. He was on the flight before ours and didn’t have a gate either. Finally we got a gate and the flight left about an hour late. The
poor chap from the UK was still waiting when we boarded, we never did see him in Melbourne, hope he got there.
Melbourne does not have a train or tram between the airport and the CBD, although they do have an extensive rail system, but they recently implemented the Skybus which is an express shuttle to the Southern Cross Station. From there it was just a short walk to the Holiday Inn on Flinders. We got settled in and spent a couple quality hours doing laundry before grabbing a quick bite and walking around the CBD for a bit. We noticed a number of Krispy Kreme donut shops on our walks, so since we can’t get those in New England anymore we stopped and got a half dozen glazed. In theory they were for breakfast, but in truth two didn’t survive the night.
The next morning, replete with the remaining Krispy Kremes, we had several hours free time before our tour. Melbourne offers two free modes of transport for visitors and this morning we took one, the Melbourne City Tourist Shuttle, a bus that runs around the CBD and past several popular visitor areas on Southbank (the area
south of the Yarra River) down to the Botanical Gardens and the Shrine of Remembrance. We did a very quick look-see at the Shrine and then spent about 45 minutes strolling around the Gardens. Both were very interesting places and neither got the time they deserved. Back on the bus to the CBD, we jumped off at Federation Square and began walking back on Flinders Lane looking for a place for lunch. However, since it was about 12:15pm on a Friday, every office worker in Melbourne was doing the same thing. Melbourne is known for its hidden restaurants, stuck in little alleys and basements. We came to Degraves Street running off Flinders Lane which was just packed with eating places. In fact, the entire center of the street was filled with tables, more or less associated the nearby bistros. We ended up at a place called “The Quarter” and split a very good chicken sandwich before going back to the hotel to meet the driver from Australian Wild Escapes.
Brett showed up a bit early and let us know we were the only customers on today’s trip so off we went, first with a bit more of a tour
of Melbourne before settling down on the M1 for the hundred or so mile drive to Phillip Island. Brett was concerned that we would run into traffic as folks got an early get-a-way because it was Australia’s Labor Day holiday. Apparently we beat the crowd, because other than a small detour due to a serious traffic accident, we got to Phillip Island with no problems. On the way we even were able to stop at a dairy farm café for tea and scones (good, but not as good as Malcolm’s) and got to Phillip Island with plenty of time on our hands. First stop on the Island was at the Koala Conservation Center where we were able to see a number of Koalas either sleeping in trees or eating a bit. Since their main activity is sleeping for 20 hours of the day, any sign of activity is a plus. After the koalas, we drove into the town of Cowes (think of Hyannis on the Cape) for a stroll on the jetty and breakwater. Since the penguins don’t come ashore till dusk, we still had a lot of time to kill so we went off to a waterfront restaurant for
dinner and an after dinner a walk on the dunes. Then it was time to head to the park on the western most tip of the island for the Penguin Parade. This is obviously a big attraction on the island and has a large car/bus park and a visitor’s center with lots of stuff to buy and grandstands to watch from. Our tour got us admission to the “VIP” section with about 200 of our closest friends.
It’s hard to know what to expect, but we arrived at about sunset and then sat for a least a half hour as the light faded from the western sky. The penguins won’t come out of the water until its pretty dark as when they cross the beach between the ocean and their nests they are the most vulnerable to predators, mostly raptors. As it was getting dark the full moon rose over the headlands to the east and as it got up into the sky there was enough light to see. At first just a few penguins came ashore and waddled up to preen just in front of our grandstand. Then as it got darker yet they started coming in “rafts” of a couple hundred birds. They would move in a compact mass and as they come over the rocks it looked like the ground was moving they were so tightly packed. Later we learn that the rafts tonight were particularly large. The particular species are called “little penguins” and they are a blue-gray color on their backs with white fronts and they stand about a foot tall. After they come ashore they move to their nests which extend through-out the dune area and good half mile from the shoreline. They follow paths and the human viewing areas are just a few feet away. Unfortunately photography is absolutely forbidden (and likely impossible anyway) so we just had to look. It was really interesting to watch, and although they were much smaller than the Emperor penguins you see on TV from Antarctica it was great fun. The other surprising thing was that as the birds started coming out of the ocean, the ones that were still in nests started calling out so it was really quite loud. After most of the penguins got to their nests, and most of the tourists got to their cars or busses we loaded up with Brett and headed back to Melbourne.
You don’t become a tour guide without the gift of gab so, as we did with Jim in NZ, we solved most of the world’s problems before arriving back at the HI. Tomorrow we ride the other free transport, rent a car in downtown Melbourne and begin the driving portion of the trip.